Progressive communities supporting Ukraine

29 February 2024 – 20 Adar I 5784

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein in Tartan Ukrainian scarf

Liberal and Reform Judaism communities around the UK continue to show their support for the people of Ukraine, as the devastating Russian invasion of the country has entered its third year.

Progressive congregations have helped through fundraising, joint online services, concerts, prayers, coffee mornings and members and clergy hosting Ukrainian refugees in their homes.

Every Kabbalat Shabbat, congregants at The Ark Synagogue join their Ukrainian ‘twins’, the Lutsk Congregation and Teiva Congregation (Lviv), for online services.

This past weekend, at a Shabbat marking the sad anniversary, The Ark’s Rabbi Aaron Goldstein wore a traditional Ukrainian shirt – gifted to him by members of the Lutsk Congregation – and a Ukrainian tartan scarf (pictured) in a show of solidarity.

Paul Hyams, a member of The Ark and Lincolnshire Jewish Community who travelled with Rabbi Aaron to Ukraine last year and will do so again in 2024, explains the story of the scarf.

He said: “Shvardovsky Sergiy Oleksandrovich, the leader of the Lutsk Community, would regularly wear a red tartan scarf. Rabbi Aaron mentioned that he would get him a new tartan scarf from Scotland. So I did a Google search and found that the company Great Scot had designed a unique tartan to reflect solidarity with the people of Ukraine. I purchased scarves for Sergiy, myself and Rabbi Aaron – who wore his as a tallit for the service.”

The Ark’s support has been warmly welcomed by the Lutsk and Lviv communities, which include many refugees who have been displaced from their previous homes Luhansk, Donetsk and Maroipol.

Elena, a Teiva member, said: “These incredibly warm Shabbat services at The Ark Synagogue heal the heart and soul. Every time we join them online, we feel the unity of light in the ocean of darkness that is trying to engulf the world.”

Fellow congregant Alexia added: “In such difficult times, when it feels like the world is going crazy, it is extremely important to know that there are people by your side, and to feel that there is somebody out there who cares.”

A service was held at Maidenhead Synagogue attended by 38 refugees. It included prayers, lighting of memorial candles and a rendition of Ukrainian National Anthem.

The community’s Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE said: “The second anniversary is a doubly sad occasion in that Ukraine is still at war and Ukrainians refugees in Maidenhead have been unable tor return home.

“What is even more difficult for them is that men are split families – with women and children here, but husbands and father still there at the frontline or doing essential war work.”

Maidenhead Synagogue hosts regular English lessons for Ukrainian refugees and Maidenhead-based charity Open Arms has helped more than 100 people to adapt to life in the UK.

Rabbi Jonathan added: “On the positive side is the remarkable welcome Maidonians have given those who have fled here, opening their homes and their hearts.

“There are many like us who signed up to host a Ukrainian family for six months, but who are still hosting them over a year later.”

The Liberal Jewish Synagogue’s Rabbi Igor Zinkov and Finchley Reform Synagogue’s Rabbi Deborah Blausten with Rabbi Stas Wojciechowicz on a WUPJ visit supporting Ukrainian refugees in Poland

The Liberal Jewish Synagogue’s Rabbi Igor Zinkov and Finchley Reform Synagogue’s Rabbi Deborah Blausten with Rabbi Stas Wojciechowicz on a WUPJ visit supporting Ukrainian refugees in Poland

At The Liberal Jewish Synagogue (LJS), the community is providing space and support for a lawyer helping Ukrainian refugees in the UK and Europe with legal advice.

They are also supporting Rabbi Igor Zinkov in his work as Co-Chair of the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s Ukraine Crisis Fund. The Fund provides essential financial, wellbeing and religious support to more than 10,000 Ukrainians and Ukrainian refugees in a dozen countries around the world, including Israel.

A prayer for Ukraine, written by Rabbi Alexandra Wright, was said during LJS services this Shabbat.

Rabbi Igor has written a Thought for the Week on the LJS website reflecting on the conflict and the role of a spiritual leader during war. You can read it here.

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